By Kevin Shrum
Pastor, Inglewood Baptist Church, Nashville
Over the past several months I have been repeatedly asked, “Are you guys (the church) meeting in person? And, how are you guys doing?” My answer is always the same. Yes, we are meeting for in-person worship. And yes, by God’s grace, we are doing remarkably well.
These questions caused me to rethink our story as we approach the one-year anniversary of what I call “the year of our discontent.” Here’s our story.
With the onset of COVID-19 we ceased in-person worship on Sunday, March 8, 2020. We began online worship on March 15, with the first three weeks with just preaching/teaching, with our able tech team assisting in broadcasting these sessions on our YouTube and Facebook pages.
We added music on April 5 provided by our worship team who faithfully joined me every Sunday morning for weeks of faithful leadership to an online church family albeit from an empty room. We held at this pattern for 12 weeks.
Then, beginning on Sunday, May 31, we moved to two identical in-person worship services with music, 9:30 and 10:45. We remained at two services for 23 weeks. In the meantime, we added ministry to children on July 12, offered simultaneously during the 10:15 worship time. We combined all children into one place by clearing out the fellowship hall to provide a type of “one room school house” for all children grades PreK-6.
This allowed us to control spacing and cleaning protocols. Nursery ministries were added as well. Later we divided the children into grades 1-3 and 4-6 and have remained at this arrangement since.
To date we have remained simple and streamlined by offering Sunday morning worship alone. We have yet to offer small group Bible studies or Wednesday night activities. We have intentionally avoided putting people into small groups in isolated class rooms where social distancing is a challenge.
We made it clear from the outset that there was no pressure to attend when we relaunched in-person worship. No guilt was applied.
We remained at two services until Nov. 8 when we moved to one in-person worship service at 10:15 a.m. Ministry to students returned for in-person Bible study at 9 a.m. just prior to the 10:15 service on Jan. 1, 2021 made possible due to their large, socially safe meeting place. We have remained at this stage since.
Did we have anyone contract COVID-19? Yes, but we don’t think anyone “caught it at church,” but we can’t be sure.
Have we been able to do ministry during this season? Yes. We have continued to hand out food boxes to hundreds of people once a month, while also providing food boxes during the week on an “as needed” basis.
In addition, we have offered several ministries, baptized a few new believers, shared the Lord’s Supper together multiple times, ordained a man to the gospel ministry and exceeded our $10,000 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions by nearly $2,000. We even had VBS as we conducted VBS on five consecutive Sunday mornings beginning the first week of June 2020. We will repeat VBS in this fashion for 2021.
Further, while our in-person attendance has hovered around 40 percent of our normal attendance, the online viewership of our Sunday morning YouTube broadcasts and our Wednesday night “Facebook Live” episodes have increased exponentially.
Financially, it has been a remarkable year. We not only met our missions giving goal, but we did not have to slash our budget. And, while we did not reach our 2020 Budget Goal as a whole, the great people of the church did give 90 percent-plus of the budget. We maintained all ministries and staff, save for the Wednesday night meal team which will resume once the comfort level of our church members reaches a level that will allow for food/meal preparation.
Most importantly, the sweetness and intensity of our worship services has been remarkable. And, the prayer ministry of the church is at an all-time high. In other words, we have been the church during this pandemic year. We hope to very soon add back only those things that are essential to the life of the body of Christ.
Among the things we have learned as a church is that God is good, sovereign and is in control, that less can be more when done with excellence, that Gods Word is enough, that prayer is essential and primary and that God’s people will rise to the occasion when challenged.
Ultimately, we have learned that COVID-19 has been God’s way of getting our attention, of making us more dependent on Him, and of reminding us that true ministry is not in the “church house” but in the mission field — we have learned that God will use whatever it takes to get us out of the salt shaker and into the mission field (Matthew 9:35-38). B&R